53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, the Best 15 Days of the Year for Film Lovers and Party Goers

SFIFF Brings the Best of Global Cinema to Bay Area Audiences with 177 Films from 46 Countries in 31 Languages


The San Francisco International Film Festival opens its 53rd year with an inspired array of films from around the globe and a broad range of accompanying festivities. Highly anticipated by its loyal and passionate audiences, championed by civic and community leaders, admired by filmmakers and closely watched by industry professionals, SFIFF is one of the most important events on the Bay Area's cultural calendar and an important stop on the international festival circuit. SFIFF53 opens April 22 and runs through May 6, with 177 films from 46 countries, including five world premieres, one international premiere, nine North American premieres and five U.S. premieres.

Opening Night begins at 7:00 pm at the historic Castro Theatre, where the curtain rises on Micmacs (France), the latest whimsical creation from the endlessly inventive director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (DelicatessenAmélie and City of Lost Children). A man who lost his father to a landmine and has a bullet lodged in his own skull seeks revenge against weapons manufacturers, enlisting an eccentric gang of junk dealers into his wacky scheme. The film is a David-and-Goliath story that employs humor and a deceptively buoyant tone to confront a corporate mentality that has no qualms about selling mayhem and death. As romantic in its own way as Amélie, if more serious in intent, Jeunet's first film in five years dazzles us anew. After the screening, the Opening Night party kicks off at 9:30 pm in the historic Regency Center, where partygoers can explore two levels of Edwardian splendor while enjoying refreshing cocktails, international culinary delights and to live music. 

The Festival's Centerpiece screening, a not-to-be-missed date night showcasing the latest work from a celebrated new director, this year features the romantic film happythankyoumoreplease (USA) followed by a chic party at one of San Francisco's hottest nightspots. Josh Radnor's debut, an audience favorite at Sundance 2010, shirks the sex, drugs and rock and roll allure of Manhattan's hipster stomping grounds for an old-fashioned dose of youthful optimism and social responsibility. happythankyoumoreplease will screen at 6:30 pm on Saturday, May 1 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, followed by the Centerpiece party at 9:00 pm at Manor West, located at 750 Harrison Street between Third and Fourth streets. Cool cocktails and delectable hors d'oeuvres will add up to one hot scene.

The Festival's Closing Night offers a rousing finale at 7 pm on Thursday, May 6, beginning with a screening of Joan Rivers-A Piece of Work (USA), Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's unvarnished portrait of the pioneer comedian. The film follows the one and only Rivers over the course of a year, revealing the complexities of an inveterate entertainer who continues to persevere despite what others may think of her. Rivers and codirector Stern are expected to attend. After the screening at 9:30 pm, the Closing Night party commences at 1015 Folsom, one of San Francisco's most vibrant clubs, where partygoers will dance the night away to hipster beats and enjoy decadent bites and well-crafted cocktails.

Three major award recipients-Walter SallesRobert Duvall and James Schamus-will be feted at the annual Film Society Awards Night on Thursday, April 29 in the Grand Ballroom of the Westin St. Francis. This year's Founder's Directing Awardgoes to Brazilian director Walter Salles (Central StationThe Motorcycle Diaries). A guiding light for a generation of directors, Salles continues to inspire filmmakers in his native Brazil and throughout Latin America. Salles also will appear at the Sundance Kabuki Theatres Wednesday, April 28, at 6:45 pm for An Evening with Walter Salles, where the special onstage tribute will include a clip reel of career highlights, an interview and a screening of In Search of On the Road (a Work in Progress), a compilation documentary about Salles's years-long effort to make a documentary about Jack Kerouac, his signature novel On the Road and the Beat Generation. The Peter J. Owens Award, honoring an actor whose work exemplifies brilliance, independence and integrity, will be given to actor Robert Duvall, who will be on hand at the Castro on Friday, April 30 at 7:30 pm for an onstage interview, retrospective film clips and a screening of his latest film Get Low. Hailed by the New York Times as "the American Laurence Olivier," Duvall is one of cinema's most respected and vital actors. The Kanbar Award, honoring excellence in screenwriting, goes this year to the inimitable James Schamus. Schamus, a kindred spirit and collaborative partner of director Ang Lee, received an Academy Award nomination for his work on Ang Lee's multi-Oscar winner Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and he has collaborated as writer and/or producer with Lee on 11 feature films. An onstage interview with critic and cultural theorist B. Ruby Rich will be followed by a screening of the recently completed director's cut of Lee's Ride with the Devil (1999).

The Film Society's Mel Novikoff Award, named for the pioneering San Francisco film exhibitor, is bestowed annually on an individual or institution whose work has enhanced the filmgoing public's knowledge and appreciation of world cinema. This year's recipient is beloved film critic Roger Ebert, who for more than 40 years has championed world cinema through voluminous writing, several television shows, his Web site and film festival. At An Evening with Roger Ebert and Friends, Saturday May 1 at 5:30 pm at the Castro Theatre, Ebert will be joined by prominent colleagues including filmmakers Philip Kaufman, Errol Morris, Jason Reitman and Terry Zwigoff for a celebration of his long career, followed by a screening of his chosen film for SFIFF53, Erick Zonca's uncompromising 2008 genre-buster Julia starring Festival favorite Tilda Swinton. 

This year's Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award, which honors a filmmaker working in forms other than narrative feature, goes to Academy Award-nominated short filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt. Over a long career, purely as an animator, Hertzfeldt has remained fiercely independent by sticking to short format and challenging the boundaries of his craft. The popularity of his work is unprecedented in the world of short animation and his films frequently are referenced in pop culture. At An Evening with Don Hertzfeldt, Friday, April 23 at 7:30 pm at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Hertzfeldt will be presented with the award and participate in an onstage interview prior to a screening of Life, Death and Very Large Utensils, a collection of many of his most beloved short films. 

The Festival's Midnight Awards honor a dynamic young American actor and actress who have made outstanding contributions to independent and Hollywood cinema and who bring striking intelligence, exemplary talent and extraordinary depth of character to their roles. This year's recipients will be announced soon. The Midnight Awards will be presented at a festive late-night ceremony and cocktail reception hosted by San Francisco literary luminary and budding actress Beth Lisick at 10:30 pm Saturday, April 24 at the W San Francisco.

Eleven feature documentaries are in the juried Golden Gate competition for three prizes with total prize money of $60,000: Investigative Documentary-$25,000; Documentary-$20,000; and Bay Area Documentary-$15,000. The contenders are: Colony, Ross McDonnell, Carter Gunn, Ireland /USA; The Invention of Dr. Nakamats, Kaspar Astrup Schröder, Denmark; Last Train Home, Lixin Fan, Canada/China; Marwencol, Jeff Malmberg, USA; Mugabe and the White African, Andrew Thompson, Lucy Bailey, England; The Peddler, Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano, Adriana Yurcovich, Argentina; Pianomania, Lilian Franck, Robert Cibis, Austria/Germany; *Presumed Guilty, Roberto Hernández, Geoffrey Smith, Mexico; Restrepo, Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger, USA; Russian Lessons, Olga Konskaya, Andrei Nekrasov, Russia/Norway/Georgia; Simonal: No One Knows How Tough it Was, Cláudio Manoel, Micael Langer, Calvito Leal, Brazil. 
* designates Bay Area Documentary winner.

Twelve films will be in juried competition for the Festival's New Directors Prize, a $15,000 cash award given to a narrative first feature that exhibits a unique artistic sensibility and deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. This year's contenders are: 

Alamar, Pedro González-Rubio, Mexico; Animal Heart, Séverine Cornamusaz, France/Switzerland; A Brand New Life, Ounie Lecomte, South Korea/France; The Day God Walked Away, Philippe van Leeuw, France; The Famous and the Dead, Esmir Filho, Brazil/France; Night Catches Us, Tanya Hamilton, USA; Northless, Rigoberto Perezcano, Mexico/Spain; La Pivellina, Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel, Austria/Italy; Shirley Adams, Oliver Hermanus, South Africa/USA; Susa, Rusudan Pirveli, Georgia; Tehroun, Nader Takmil Homayoun, France/Iran; You Think You're the Prettiest, But You Are the Sluttiest, Ché Sandoval, Chile.

The Golden Gate competition also awards eight prizes and $20,000 to short films and youth-produced works. 

The Golden Gate winners, New Directors Prize, the FIPRESCI Prize (international critics prize for best film), Kenneth Rainin Foundation Filmmaking Grant and SFFS/Film Arts Foundation Documentary Grant winners will all be announced at the Golden Gate Awards at Temple Nightclub-Prana Restaurant, Wednesday, May 5, at 7:00 pm.

Each year, the Film Society asks a culturally prominent public figure to address one or more of the pressing issues facing the intersecting worlds of contemporary cinema, visual arts, technology, viewership, images and ideas. The 2010 State of Cinema Address will be delivered at 4 pm, Sunday, April 25 by acclaimed film editor, sound designer, intellectual maverick and nine-time Academy Award-nominee Walter Murch. Murch will deliver a fascinating reading on the cultural origins of cinema in the 19th century, with special consideration paid to the legacies of Beethoven, Flaubert and Edison, bringing the conversation full circle with his thoughts on how the prehistory of cinema informs its future.

The Festival's Live & Onstage events this year include A Conversation with T Bone Burnett, an in-depth conversation focusing on the Oscar-winning artist's celebrated work as a composer, music supervisor and producer for films including Crazy Heartand O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Saturday April 24 at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas; Utopia in Four Movements, a live improvisational piece fresh from Sundance by documentarian Sam Green and sound artist Dave Cerf that investigates the meaning and status of idealism in contemporary culture, Sunday, April 25 at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas; A Drunken Evening with Derek Waters and Wholphin, a night of mild debauchery featuring rising comedic writer/actor Derek Waters and his short films including selections from the Drunk History series, Monday, April 26 at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas; Porchlight: True Stories from the Frontiers of International Filmmaking, for which Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte bring their acclaimed nonfiction storytelling series to SFIFF in a special night of true, sometimes titillating, often absurd tales about making movies, Monday, May 3 at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas; and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with Stephin Merritt, for which the remarkably gifted and prolific tunesmith Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields will perform his original score to the 1916 silent classic joined by an ensemble including Castro Mighty Wurlitzer organist David Hegarty, frequent Merritt collaborator and author Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) on accordion and other musicians to be announced, Tuesday, May 4 at the Castro Theatre.

The International's Cinema by the Bay section celebrates films produced in the creative heart of the West. SFIFF53 is proud to showcase the established and emerging talent in the Bay Area, continuing the Festival's longstanding tradition of culling the fertile local scene to present cinematic gems on their hometown screens. This year the selections are Empire of Silver (China 2009) from Palo Alto-based filmmaker Christina Yao, a lush epic of love, succession and compromised ideals within a powerful family of Shanxi bankers during the waning years of the Qing Dynasty; Morning (world premiere, USA 2009), a beautifully acted, carefully observed and consistently unexpected exploration of loss and endurance from actor-turned-writer/director Leland Orser, playing opposite real-life wife Jeanne Tripplehorn; The Practice of the Wild (world premiere, USA 2010), a warm portrait of Beat poet Gary Snyder and his cantankerous compadre Jim Harrison that intertwines Bay Area bohemia, Zen Buddhism and musings on ecology and spirituality; and Seducing Charlie Barker (USA 2009), a cutting satire about a talented, out-of-work Manhattan actor who gets more than he bargained for when he meets an ambitious but vapid young temptress.

The Late Show section offers adventurous audiences a selection of edgy, thrill-filled and outrageous films from around the world designed to arouse, amuse and shock. The thrilling quartet of films in this year's lineup are All About Evil (world premiere with a spectacular live pre-show featuring Peaches Christ and numerous other special guests, USA 2009), in which a meek librarian turns sanguinary filmmaker after inheriting an old movie palace in this hilarious tribute to '80s slasher films by Bay Area impresario Joshua Grannell-aka Peaches Christ; Cargo (Switzerland 2009), a suspenseful, stylish and atmospheric effort-Switzerland's first sci-fi film-that potently combines environmental concerns with outer space chills; The Loved Ones (Australia 2009), a gripping shocker from Australia in which a grieving teen is pursued by the ugly duckling from hell in this; and The Violent Kind (USA 2010), in which a quartet of friends heads up to a rural cabin for a birthday party little knowing what horrific circumstances await them-and intrepid audiences-courtesy of the imaginatively macabre Butcher Brothers.

The International, under the auspices of an ongoing partnership with The Film Foundation, will present new prints of two masterpieces of world cinema, Luchino Visconti's Senso (Italy 1954, SFIFF 1957) and Satyajit Ray's The Music Room (India 1958) at the Castro Theatre and the Pacific Film Archive. Senso, about the affair between an Italian countess (Alida Valli) with partisan sympathies and an Austrian officer from the occupying army (Farley Granger), set during Garibaldi's war of independence in the 1860s, is one of the most extraordinary historical films ever made. Senso's magnificent restoration was conducted by StudioCanal, Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia/Cineteca Nazionale and the Cineteca di Bologna/L'Immagine Ritrovata. The Music Room, one of the finest films in the history of Indian cinema, is the story of a turn-of-the-century aristocrat whose funds and holdings are dwindling but who continues to spend money on lavish concerts in his music room. His existence may be threatened, but his vision of perfection, embodied in the hypnotic musical sequences, will not be denied. The restoration was completed by the Academy Film Archive. 

The Festival continues fostering opportunities for audiences to interact with the ideas raised by films and filmmakers through the Conversations series of events. For A Conversation with Callie Khouri, April 24 at 2:30 pm, the celebrated director (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) and Academy Award-winning screenwriter (Thelma & Louise) will engage in an in-depth discussion about the film business, writing with a purpose and showing up for the muse. For the Master Class with Walter Salles, Thursday, April 29 at 2:30 pm, the Founder's Directing Award recipient will lead an intimate discussion about the art and craft of directing. Sunday, May 2 at 3:00 pm, the discussion Logging Off: Is Online Gaming Addictive? takes a close look at multiplayer online role-playing games and explores the question of whether gaming companies have a responsibility to their users. Chronicle Chats returns to the Festival with three in-depth Q&A discussions with invited San Francisco Chronicle writers following select screenings.

Two events comprise the Previews program. Work in Progress: Joann Sfar Draws from Memory, a work-in-progress screening of a film by Sam Ball, tracks Joann Sfar, director of Festival feature Gainsbourg (Je t'aime . . . moi non plus) on an odyssey through the dual Algerian and Eastern European family heritage that is the wellspring of his work on paper. The excerpt will be followed by a discussion with Ball about the pleasures and perils of representing well-known artists on the screen. Tuesday, May 4 at 9:30 pm at Landmark's Clay Theatre, filmgoers will discover the Sneak Preview of a New Film by François Ozon, the latest offering from one of France's most important young directors.
The San Francisco International Film Festival, established in 1957, is the longest-running festival in the Americas. Over the past 52 years, SFIFF has shown roughly 6,000 films from 150 countries to an audience of two million film lovers. The International is deeply rooted in the strongest and finest traditions of appreciation of film both as an art form and as a meaningful agent for social change. It is a cultural treasure for Bay Area audiences, who embrace new ideas, compassionate humanity and world citizenship. Remarkably intimate for a festival of its size and scope, the International combines a range of marquee premieres, international competitions, hard-hitting documentaries, digital media work and star-studded gala events.

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